Entries in Riddle, Clive (307)


15 Big Health Care Business Questions for 2009 and beyond by Clive Riddle

by Clive Riddle

The impact of reform, recession, technology and emerging initiatives

Here’s a list of 15 questions to ask as we start to ponder the upcoming new year which will close out this decade:

  1. Reform: What final health care reform package will emerge from the new administration and Congress, what will be the timing, and what portions of it will get adopted, given the current recession/financial crisis?

  2. Regulation: Will significantly increased regulation ensue, with the compliance environment become even more stringent?

  3. Medicare Advantage: Assuming Medicare Advantage health plan compensation is further targeted, will plans accelerate mass market withdrawals as they did prior to the MMA increases?

  4. Consumer Driven Plans: Will the Democratic congress and the new administration diminish the viability of account based consumer driven health plans?

  5. Patient Collections: How deep will be the impact of provider collection problems with higher consumer cost sharing in the current financial climate, and will there be any new initiatives from the hospital industry or other provider in response?

  6. Patient Deferral of Care: In a recession environment, will consumers further defer and adjust their health care utilization and spending, even at long term detriment to their health?

  7. Funding Wellness: Will immediate health benefit cost pressures trigger reduced support for initiatives that require longer term ROI, such as wellness incentives?

  8. Tighter Managed Care: Will health benefit cost pressures fuel a demand and acceptance for a return to more stringent managed care delivery and care management?

  9. Payment Reform: How widespread will provider payment reform initiatives evolve, advance and be adopted?

  10. Medical Homes: To what degree will medical homes take hold, and how different vs. standardized will medical home initiatives evolve?

  11. Fights over the Shrinking Pie: Will specialty physicians associations organize to more actively combat medical home, p4p and other payment reform initiatives if they are perceived as realigning distribution of physician compensation more towards primary care or further reducing income?

  12. Investment Income: How deep will the ultimate impact of reduced investment income be upon health plans and health care institutions, and will it cause fundamental changes in investment portfolios, rate increases or reduced staffing or services?

  13. Mergers and Acquisitions: Will the fallout of financial pressures cause an acceleration in Mergers and Acquisitions in the various health care industry components, or will tighter financial markets and conditions combined with increased regulatory scrutiny dampen the M&A environment?

  14. EHR spending conundrum: A conundrum exists over the need for massive infrastructure and conversion spending on EHR initiatives and related issues such as ICD-10 coding in order to make the health care system more efficient, versus the immediate need to reduce cost pressures in the current financial climate: So will these initiatives lose or gain momentum?

  15. Health Portals: Will one or more consumer health portals/web personal health records, such as Microsoft’s Healthvault or GoogleHealth emerge to achieve the same level of consumer significance as online banking/bill payments or social media such as Myspace/Facebook?

So what questions can you add to the list for 2009?


Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage in a Big Box

By Clive Riddle

Retail health care will continue to emerge and develop in new arenas. Retail health care started with prescription drugs decades ago, and now retail, convenient care clinics have been the rage. But there are certainly more retail avenues to develop, starting with health insurance at the individual level. Marrying individual Medicare distribution with prescription drugs at the retail would seem a natural. At least it has to Aetna and Costco.

This week, Aetna and Costco announced an alliance to offer a Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan: the Aetna Medicare Rx - Costco Plus Plan, to be available in 17 states, with Costco providing sales distribution to its members, and preferred Rx benefits provided for prescriptions filled at Costco pharmacies.

The plan will be available in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington. Monthly premiums will range from $50 to $70, depending upon the state. Under the plan generic copays, typically $10 at other pharmacies, will be $5 at Costco, or in some cases, zero copay.

Costco operates 545 “membership warehouses”, including 400 in the United States, and also operates Costco Online, an electronic commerce Web site at costco.com.


Data from the Consumer Driven Healthcare Summit

By Clive Riddle

The Third National Consumer Driven Healthcare Summit was held earlier this week in Washington DC, addressing a wide range of current key health care consumerism issues, with leading thought leaders and industry experts from around the country. Here's some interesting data shared by speakers from four selected Track Sessions during the conference:

Individual Health Insurance

Samuel Gibbs, Senior Vice President of Sales of eHealth, Inc.(parent of eHealthInsurance) gave a presentation on "The Online Individual Insurance Market - Perspectives, Experiences and Trends." EHealth represents over 180 health insurance carriers nationwide, which are available directly to consumer via their eHealthInsurance web site. Sam shared that eHealth's individual plan profile for 2007 was as follows:

* Average Age: 36
* Percent Male: 54%
* Percent Single: 61%
* Average Annual Premium: $1,896
* Range of Average Monthly Premiums: $83 to $388
* Average Annual Deductible: $1,971

Ann Ritter from the Convenient Care Association participated in a session on "The State of Convenient Care for 2009" and shared just released RAND convenient care data including:

* Patients by age breakdown as follows: under age 2 - 0.2%; age 2-5 - 6.3%; age 6-17 - 20.3%; age 18-44 - 43.0%; age 45-64 - 22.6%; age 65+ 7.5%
* 2.3% of patients were triaged to an emergency department or physician's office
* Among patients age 65+, 73.65% of visits were for immunizations
* Ten basic treatments and services accounted for more than 90% of visits

Paul H. Rubin, PhD, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Economics and Law, Department of Economics, Emory University, in a presentation on "The Cost Effectiveness of Direct to Consumer Advertising for Prescription Drugs" discussed findings from a study and paper he co-wrote with Adam Atherly of Emory University, in which they found during patient visits to their physician:

* 4% of patients schedule physician visits to ask about a drug
* 14% of patients discussed a concern because of DTC advertising
* If patients ask for a drug, 39% receive that prescription, 22% are prescribed a different drug, and 18% receive no drug
* 5.5% of physicians prescribed a requested DTC drug, but thought a different drug was better
* 88% of patients requesting a DTC drug had a relevant condition
* 75% who received the requested drug reported subsequently feeling better

Michael Vittoria, Vice President, Human Resources, Sperian Protection, in his presentation on "Integrating Wellness & Preventative Care into a CDHP" told us that Sperian, with 1,300 U.S. employees, adopted a self funded HRA in 2004, introduced HSAs in 2007 and introduced Wellness Incentives in 2008. Sperian currently has 56% of employees enrolled in PPOs, 14% in HMOs and 30% in the self funded HSA options. 34% of their 2008 HSA participants earn < $30k, 21% earn between $30k to $50k, 17% earn between $50k to $75k, 16% earn between $75k and $100k, and 12% earn more than $100k. Sperian conducted various wellness incentive programs during 2008, with their weight loss program yielding a BMI reduction in participating employees from 30.7 to 29.4. Sperian's overall medical cost trend from each previous year has been:

* 2004 - 11.7% increase
* 2005 - 4.5% increase
* 2006 - 3.6% increase
* 2007 - 2.6% increase
* 2008 - 1.8% increase


Getting to the bottom of Counter-Intuitive Data

By Clive Riddle

The KFF/HRET Annual Survey of Employer Sponsored Benefits and Smaller versus Larger Group Premium Costs

Results were recently released from The Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Educational Trust  Annual Survey of Employer Sponsored Benefits. This year’s 214 page document is a must read if you want a statistical photo album, as opposed to a snapshot, of employer health benefits landscape.

While the KFF/HRET is rightfully one of the most often cited, and leading sources for employer health benefit statistics, the results occasionally contain data that seems counter-intuitive.  Digging through this year’s document, the comparison of  smaller versus larger employer group premium costs raises such a red flag.

Intuition would guide us to believe that larger employer groups would experience lower premium costs and lower premium increases. Historically, a wide number of studies from national benefit consulting firms have borne this out.

But the 2008 KFF/HRET survey tells us that premiums are now cheaper for smaller firms (3-199 workers) compared to larger firms (200+ workers), with the average monthly single premium at $382 for smaller versus $397 for larger firms (3.9% higher), and the average monthly family premium at $1,008 for smaller versus $1,081 for larger firms (7.2% higher.) The report notes that in past years, any differential was not so significant.

What gives? It of course is always tempting in such situations to dismiss the information as a result of skewed data and a faulty survey. But who are we to know that this is case? Instead, the answers may still be in front of us. The report doesn’t specifically respond with answers to this vexing question, but it does supply enough detailed data to offer some explanations, if you dig one level deeper.

And in digging, it would appear that the difference could be due to benefit packages, plan funding, and demographics.

When broken down by plan of benefits, smaller firm premiums are actually more expensive for a number of categories (Family HMO, Single PPO, Single and Family HDHP) and the differential is not as pronounced where larger firms are more expense (3.2% higher for Single HMO and 2.4% higher for Family PPO) except for POS premiums, which don’t have that significant of enrollment.

Thus part of the explanation for less expensive smaller firm premiums could simply be in the mix of benefit packages (HMO vs PPO vs HDHP etc) for smaller firms vs larger firms. On top of that, a good portion of the explanation could be in the level of cost sharing, which impacts premium costs. For example, the average Single PPO deductible for smaller firms was $917, compared to $413 for larger firms.

Another component of the explanation may be in that self-funded plan costs are running higher than fully funded plans. The report indicates that family self-funded premiums average 6.2% higher than fully funded premiums. The report also tells as that only 12% of smaller firms have some level of self-funding compared to 77% of larger firms. Furthermore, more large firms are trending towards self funding. 62% of workers with employers having 5,000+ employees self-funded in 1999, increasing to 89% in 2008, and 62% of workers with employers having 1,000 to 4,999 employees self-funded in 1999 compared to 76% in 2008.

Lastly, demographics can provide some of the explanation. Larger groups tend to have a slightly older population, and the report indicates that firms with less than 35% of workers aged 26 or under had 6.7% higher premium costs than firms with more than 35% of workers aged 56 and under. Larger groups tend to have workers with higher wage levels, and the report indicates that firms with less than 35% of workers earning $22,000 or less had 8.3% higher premium costs than firms with more than 35% of workers earning $22,000 or less. Lastly, larger firms tend to be more unionized, and the report indicates that firms with at least some union employees had 4.3% higher premiums than firms with no union employees.

The point of all this digging is to demonstrate, when considering reports as valuable of the KFF/HRET annual survey, not to just browse through the summary and walk away with a headline that smaller groups now have lower premiums than larger groups, as some news organizations have done, or to dismiss the survey as flawed, as some pundits have done. Digging through the data can yield explanations, which would seem to indicate that on an apples-to-apples basis, small groups aren’t really cheaper. Instead, small groups have higher cost sharing, a different mix of benefit plans, less self funding and demographics that make them “apples” compared to large firm “oranges”, and the apples do cost less than oranges in this case.


Presenteeism Quantified

By Clive Riddle

CIGNA last week released Yankelovich survey results quantifying various aspects of "presenteeism", which they define as "the phenomenon of employees being physically present at work, but not performing their duties at full capacity due to illness and various distractions."

Jodi Prohofsky, CIGNA Health Solutions Unit SVP of Operations tells us "The survey demonstrates very clearly what every employee knows – that life impacts work and work impacts life. The challenge for employers is to find ways to reduce that impact by offering workplace programs focused on employee health and well-being, and then encourage their employees to use these programs. It’s important for employers to create a culture of wellness in the workplace so that every employee has the opportunity to achieve his or her full health and productivity.”

Here's selected results from their study:

  • On average, people admitted to spending between 2 ½ and five hours per week resolving personal issues while at work, spiking during particularly stressful or eventful weeks.
  • 61% of employees reported for duty while they were sick or coping with family and personal matters, with an average number of  6.9 "presenteeism" days per employee for the past six months, compared to 3.0 actual absence days per employee for the past six months.
  • Employees average 2.4 hours per week dealing with personal issues in a typical week, and 4.7 hours during a stressful week
  • 62% of employees admitted to being  less productive on those days they were sick or had to deal with personal issues, 
  • 38% of employees reported to work sick or with a significant person issue out of a sense of duty, and 25 % reported because they needed the income. 
  • 66% of employees admitted they don’t get enough sleep, and 45% said that their lack of sleep hurt their work performance. 
  • Of those saying that a lack of sleep affected them at work, 50% were less productive, 43% were irritable, 42 % were unable to focus, 40% delayed projects,  28%  admitted to making errors, and 12% fell asleep on the job (multiple answers allowed.)
  • Employee strategies to stay alert bode well for Starbucks. the top strategy was to drink caffeinated beverages (57%). 20% said they take a nap to stay refreshed.

The lines continue to blur between human resource issues and benefits issues, and employers, health plans, providers, and solutions companies are all building on a trend to address workplace issue like presenteeism through delivery and management of health care benefit. Expect to see health plans, wellness companies, care management companies, pharmaceutical programs, and various vendors to continue to step up involvement is this area.